Lavender makes a beautiful summer addition to your garden.

It will soon be officially summer and time to enjoy summer blooms. In last week week’s column, Kathy Ikeda advocated for Salvias and they are a great flowering perennial for our California Mediterranean climate. Another flower group that I love to grow is Lavender which is also well suited to our dry, warm climate. It too is very drought tolerant and does best in full sun and well-drained soils. It has grey-green scented foliage and will thrive with neglect except for annual pruning. It has been grown for centuries for its fragrance, and for use in cosmetics, culinary, wands, sachets and potpourri. It also attracts beneficial insects. There are many varieties and cultivars; so many that they are hard to identify in your garden if you don’t have the source information.
The English Lavender, (Lavandula angustifolia) grows to about 2-3 feet tall and wide and is good for making wands as well as for culinary use and its oil is the best for cosmetics. There are several cultivars of this species and I will only mention a few: see: https://www.highcountrygardens.com/search/go?w=english%20lavender
Lavandula augustifolia ‘Hidcote’ forms smaller mounds to 18 inches tall with deep purple, edible blossoms on 8 inch stalks. It is a good choice for edging walkways and garden beds.

English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ a violet cultivar.

A more heat tolerant cultivar is Lavandula augustifolia ‘Munstead’ which is 18-24 inches tall, mounding and suitable for walkway, rockeries, garden beds, knot gardens small hedges and mixes well with other perennials in the border. It will thrive on slopes and in rock gardens and will naturalize. It is a good choice for fresh or dried arrangements, sachets, essential oils and perfume.
The hybrid, Lavandula x ginginsii ‘Goodwin Creek Gray’, is a large bush with finely toothed silver grey foliage and long, slender, dark purple spikes. It is very heat and drought tolerant and works well in perennial borders as well as containers. One of its parents is the French lavender Lavandula dentata, which differs from the English lavender in that it is less hardy, taller and less compact with longer bloom time and longer lasting blooms. English lavender definitely has more of the characteristic lavender fragrance than the French lavender. Goodwin Creek Gray is an excellent French lavender selection for our area.
Lavandula x intermedia, also called Lavandin, is a hybrid cross between English Lavender and Lavandula latifolia (Portuguese Lavender). The Lavandin cultivars are slightly less hardy than Lavandula angustifolia, but tend to grow larger, up to 4 feet, bloom later from July to August, and produce more flower spikes than other Lavenders. There are several cultivars which you can examine at: https://victorslavender.com/available-plants-products/lavandula-x-intermedia/
Spanish lavender, or Lavendula stoechas, is just one of about 40 varieties of this fragrant herb and is somewhat more heat tolerant being native to southern Spain. It is similar in most aspects to others described, but the flowers are definitely unique. The top of each flowering stem grows larger, upright bracts that resemble rabbit ears. It is well suited to growing in containers. The flowers may be purple or pink, depending on the cultivar. ‘Ann’s Purple’ is larger than others, and it will grow about 30 inches tall and wide. ‘Purple ribbon’ produces dark purple flowers and is a little bit cold hardier than other cultivars. ‘Kew Red’ produces pink flowers of a dark raspberry shade. ‘Winter Bees’ will start to bloom earlier than most cultivars, beginning in late winter in California. ‘Lusko’s Dwarf’ grows to about 12 inches and is a good one for containers. For more information on Spanish Lavender see: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/lavender/spanish-lavender-plants.htm
Whatever lavender you choose it is relatively low maintenance, with low water requirements once it is established. Pruning need be done only once per year and best done in the spring just before new growth starts. Prune back by about a third which will keep the plant from getting too woody and increase the blooms for harvest. If there are dead branches remove them. If the plant is not pruned it may become very woody and blossoming will decrease. For more information on selecting the lavender see: https://www.gardenia.net/guide/how-to-choose-the-right-lavender.
Whatever lavender you choose it will provide enjoyment for years as they are long-lived perennials. I once grew several English Lavender plants from seeds and the plants kept going for over 20 years and still might be going, if the new owners care for them. It is indeed a plant of many virtues to love and enjoy.
If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/

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